Saturday, September 30, 2006

An Encounter ...

It was around 4 pm. On a whim, I decided to go back to room from the lab. I hadn’t done any concrete work the whole day and didn’t feel like doing any either. So, I gather my coat and walk down the stairs (instead of taking the lift) and get out of the dept building. It was cloudy but the sun was indeed trying very hard to peek in. I walk to the bus stop and stand at the back near the display board waiting for the bus. The display board displays the maps of the various bus routes, the bus timings and so on. Relaxed, leaning back on a pole, I survey the rest of the crowd. A group of chinese girls chattering, an old lady impatiently waiting, a guy in a sweatshirt listening to his ipod with deep concentration presumably (as his eyes were closed), a suit wearing executive type person with a briefcase looking despondent, and a stout girl fiddling in her bag. There were a few others on the other bus stop too but I didn’t care to observe them. I had nothing particular to do in the room. I didn’t have a PC back then, had finished the novel that I was reading, I had just shopped the previous day and so even the kitchen was well stocked. So basically, I had nothing to do with my time for the rest of the day.

The sun seemed to have won a temporary battle with the clouds and came shining through casting a ray of warmth over us, poor souls, at the bus stop. With the sunlight, also came another bunch of people bus-hopefuls to the bus stop. However, only one captured my attention. Wearing a brown baggy jeans and a sleeveless white top, with a rucksack clinging onto her shoulders, she strode towards me. A white cotton belt around her thin waist accentuated her figure. With her wavy dark brown hair and a dimpled cheek complementing her beautiful face, she was more than just gorgeous. So, she finally came to a halt beside me facing the display board. While she was looking up at the maps, I continued staring at her. I was still leaning onto the pole beside the board. She gazes deeply into the map muttering something incomprehensible. She seemed to be trying to figure out something. I was standing to her left. Suddenly she turned right and asked the executive guy about some place. I couldn’t quite catch hold of the name of the place but only that it started with ‘S’. Now even the man started looking at the map, both of them trying to figure out something. I desperately tried to overhear their conversation, but they seemed to be mumbling something. The man seemed as clueless as she was. Suddenly, I heard a complete sentence from the girl. She said to him pointing at the map, “I know that’s Swaythling, but which bus goes from here?” Swaythling! That’s where I stay. I knew which bus to take. I was actually waiting for that particular bus! Being new to the country, I think twice about intruding to offer advice. However, I buried all my fears branding them baseless, and took a step forward towards her.

The rest of the 'encounter' shall follow shortly.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why do I blog?

1. To keep an account of some of the interesting anecdotes of my life and some of the thoughts and opinions that always keep originating in my mind.

2. To not let rust onto my excellent writing skills ;))

3. To provide some colour to the lives of those handful of faithful readers of the blog.

4. Because it is one of the best things to do when you sit in front of the computer to work but dont feel like working!!

Btw, I forgot to mention this in my previous post- Chips are not chips but french-fries, the chips that we know of, are called as crisps.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Eccentricity of the city

There is no ground floor in the buildings.
Well, they dont hover in air (if only they did!!) but just that the floor on the ground is called 'first floor' and so on. And no .. there are no cellars either. There is plenty of space around for parking anyway.

I say hi to someone. they reply with 'Hi, how are you' or 'Hi, how do you do'. And me who had approached the someone with a firm purpose in mind to ask something or get something done, would have to deviate from the task and reply with a 'Am fine!'. Also am supposed to add a 'how are you/how do you do' which I forget most of the time. And yeah, I hurriedly talk about the task at hand. What I am trying to convey (which I dont seem to be doing well) is that being asked 'how are you' totally offsets me and I end up groping for words. Am not used to 'how are you' unless in chat :D

Also, (Thank-you==cheers) is 1. Young people often say cheers instead of thank you.

Too-low hip jeans are still in fashion here (and everywhere else I guess). However, almost invariably, its the not-slim (this is a euphemism) girls who seem to be wearing them.

The problem with being surrounded by only chinese when waiting at the bus stop is that it gets very boring. If there had been people from any other nationality they would converse among themselves in english and what you would be overhearing would make some sense to you atleast instead of all yang-yang-chi-chang!!

Indian takeaway food is not bad at all. It was pretty decent. The menu however quite baffled me. It had so many dishes that seemed Indian but which I had never heard of before. This has to be a surprise because I have been to all the well known north-indian cuisine restaurants in hyderabad and always studied the menu deeply (though relegating the mundane ordering task to others :D) .. I have seen several Indian takeaways here offering north indian food, several offering kerala cuisine (calling it south indian!!), but am yet to come across some south-indian one which offers vada, dosa stuff :D. Will surely patronize such a thing if I am lucky enough to find it. Also, any item on the menu will be presented with a pappad. Its as if pappad is the unanimous starter :D. Good for pappad lovers like me.

Everything comes with an expiry date. And the date is so atrociously close. Through experience, I know that a bunch of carrots will be pretty good for more than a week when stored in the fridge. But the packets here warn the consumer to consume it within 2 days or so. What is more absurd is that even the computer system box comes with an electrical expiry date! Written on my brand new system in the lab - "Tested 09/06, Do NOT use after 09/09". Maybe its all the MNCs' conspiracies to increase their sales by frightening the gullible fearful public into discarding old items and buy new ones?

The past few days, since I had nothing to do in the room, I started practising my signature with the left hand :D. By the way, All phd students are provided with a log book, which is a pretty sturdy binded notebook in which to record all their ideas, experiments etc. If a book gets full with written matter, you need to show it to the supplies office and will be given a new one. I had an idea, what if I fill mine totally with my practice of the left-handed signature and present it to the office and ask for a new one? :D

I have read somewhere that the much hyped 'Culture shock' has the following phases-
Euphoric stage or Honeymoon phase: everything excites and delights the person.
Hostile stage or Everything is awful phase: everything is irritating to the person.
Acceptance stage or Everything is ok phase: the person adjusts and enjoys the new culture.
Reverse Culture Shock stage: the person goes back to find himself and his previous culture changed. (courtesy wikipedia and a host of other websites)
Anyways, I feel am not going to have a culture shock at all :D. The readers shall know my feelings about everything as I would keep blogging and thus the reader would be the witness to whether I had to experience any 'shock' at all :)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thoughts of the day

My wallet is becoming bulkier by the day. Soon I shall have enough 1p, 2p (p=>penny) coins that I could build a eiffel tower. .. no .. bigben with it. After every transaction I am burdened with more coins. Everyday I go out, I promise myself that I shall dump all those coins at some hapless shop/canteen-cashier. But when the opportune moment comes due to consideration both for the cashier and the person behind me in the queue (actually because of a fear of being frowned upon), I back out and present a whole sum and come back carrying even more coins :((.

Evening, I was walking back to my room after getting down the bus. The sun is shining brightly and so I say to myself, 'wow, today is a fine day'. And then it strikes me! The must be the first time ever I said that it was a fine day because the sun is shining!! Aah change of place changes many persectives ;))

These days, Charlie Chaplin has been keeping me company during dinner, both while cooking and eating it. No, I am not watching his movies (I dont have a pc/laptop in room yet), even better, am reading his autobiography. Its quite interesting. He seems to remember all his life in great detail. One thing that he waxed about and which I whole-heartedly agree is that humour arises when the situation is so serious that its absurd (he said in grandiloquently and loquaciously (aka much better and larger vocabulary) though :D).

My wrist-watch seems to be more attached to India than me. It keeps reverting back to IST though I keep correcting it. Ofcourse a more plausible explanation would be that the battery is edging towards its death.

After a lot of experimentation which spanned well over two years, I have concluded that the optimal number of people that I should be chatting with at one instance is 5. Any less, and I would be left with free time in which I would have to do something else. Any more, and my chatters would have to wait for my response. At 5, I am occupied just enough not to have any idle moments, and I am also able to maintain the tempo of all the conversations. (Has there been a research paper on optimality of chatting before?? :D)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The people I have been meeting these days ...

Well, today is saturday and so am here in the lab, but there is no one else. The lab which on normal weekdays hosts about 70 phds/postdocs furiously going about their research is empty today except for me. So, its true, people here dont work on weekends, even if they are research geeks :D.

Everyone in my research group has a girlfriend. And thats everyone except me (and the married and except the girls also .. ofcourse). And some of them are going on 2 week, 4 week vacations to exotic places like the Carribean, China and Malaysia etc.

Life is cool and awesome for people like me and others in my lab who get paid decently. But for international students without aid its really tough. Some Indians I know work in a supermarket everday from 5-9 and yet have to be careful about spending a single penny. A Pakistani whom I met once, is a 3rd year phd student in Coastal area management and lives by cleaning tables at McDonalds (he was just too delighted to meet me).

People are kind of laid back. Havent seen them in a hurry except when they drive cars .. most of the cars whooze by. The buses do not come at the exact minute as per the time table as in Swiss/Japan. But they are spread over well and do not come all at once either as in Hyd ;)). And the people who smile when going past you on the road are generally british than of any other origins.

What else? Well my fingers are freezing because my new desk in close to the air conditioners and there is no one else in the lab to soak up the cold .. so I shall logoff and goodbye.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lets ramble about the British now!!

I was told time and again before leaving, to blog about all my new experiences blah blah .. but these last few days, I have had so many incidents and thoughts that I have no idea where to begin and go where ... So, I will just note down point wise, in some random order, some of my observations :).

£. Why am I using a sterling sign to mark my points? Just because it is available on the keyboard! I could understand the Japs using a keyboard with different config, I could understand the Swiss using a different config keyboard (because they use french/german) .. but why do even the British have a different keyboard to that which we use?? All the special characters are in weird positions .. ¬ is in the place of ~, @ exchanges the position with " , have new editions like £ and € etc ..

£. The weather (yeay .. I got to talk abt that :D) is capricious, I have seen for myself what they mean by 'its sunny one moment and the next minute its raining!!' And there is always a cool wind blowing .. and this is summer here btw. Such a weather would have been awesome in Hyd .. not here :P And the best weather is not when it is cloudy and rainy .. but when it is sunny and there is this chilly breeze blowing .. then its just awesome.

£. Why do the manufacturers here price their items so atrociously? I can understand something priced £ 2.50, or even £ 2.99 but why in the name of watever, would some item be priced £ 2.37 ? Or 1.84? or 3.62? or 2.17? Firstly, it makes calculating difficult, yeah the cashier would use their billing machines, but what about poor me who wants to have an estimate of the amount I am buying? And after every transaction, I am flooded with change i.e little one-pennies, littler 5-penny coins, large 2-penny coins etc. Also, the shop people here arent as courteuous, they do say thank-you etc but not with the same kind of smile that I had been accustomed to in Japan or Swiss.

£. Talking about university issues, I can access my home directory at the dept file server through a Windows, Linux or even Solaris environment. That is I can open the txt file both through notepad, vim etc. Now thats awesome :D

£. Swipe your way! For everything you need your smart card (thats what Id cards are called these days). It is your access to the library, the city buses, your dept building .. everything. And anyone could have got my Id card with his/her photo if only they knew my student ID number and had asked for the card before I did. Because, all through the process of clicking my photo to giving me the card, they never asked for any kind of identification. They would just ask for the ID number, and then obtain my details through their database and process the request. Never checking whether the person in front of them is indeed the person who he claims to be.

£. The little of the city that I have seen is picturesque, with those houses and lawns just as described in those Enid Blyton books ;) Am yet to visit the 'city center', that is, the main area of the city. Its all green and pleasant now, I guess I will have to wait for the winter to see the other side.

£. The roads are narrow, (wrt Hyd standards) even the main roads are just wide enough for two buses to pass each other. But then everyone moves in such orderly fashion, its no problem at all. Ofcourse it is so easy to manage a 2lakh population city.

£. Currently, I have the feeling that the university is in China because it is vacation time and most of the students go home except the research-postgrads or the chinese :D.

£. I am already accustomed to the Brit accent and seem to be developing one myself :-s. Also, its a strange feeling when every research paper that you glance through has a reference to some paper by your phd guide :-s

I am not tired of mentioning again that I live in a flat with 7 bedrooms of which 6 are currently unoccupied. Initially I was feeling kinda lonely and wished there were others to talk to. Now that I have made acquaintances (mostly indians) in and around my flat, I dont want to meet them and prefer to be left alone! I cant understand myself! I am a loner who desires company? Strange guy I am ...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Soon, I shall host 'Khana Khazana' !!

subtitle: My tryst with cooking ...

The most important thing that you would do when you start living abroad is cook yourself. No, its not due to the scarcity of eating places, but rather because even the Indian cuisine places are not 'indian' enough (meaning spicy) and the amount you would spend for a dinner outside would buy you food for the whole week if you cook it yourself. Anyways, now let us get on with my story which I am itching to tell :D.

So on 29th, when I reached the city, I was given this room to stay temporarily until the room which I have been allocated gets ready. The whole structure of the postgraduate accommodation in this particular hall of residence (euphemism for hostel?) is in the form of apartment blocks. Each flat in such a building would have 7 bedrooms and a kitchen shared by the 7 residents of that flat. And my flat currently has only one resident- me! (since this is vacation time)

1. The first 2 days I was too busy with other things to even explore the kitchen. On the third day, I find that the kitchen is pretty good. It has a fridge, freezer, microwave, 4-electric stove, oven, griller along with shelves, dining table chairs etc. I look in the shelf belonging to me and lo behold I find three unopened packets of chinese noodles waiting to be cooked. I then look in the other shelves and find nothing. So, I thank the previous chinese resident, take out a bowl from my suitcase, bring some water to boil on it and put it in the noodles. Thats when I realise that there is no kind of masala/seasoning inside the pack. I cant eat just plain noodles! Looking deeper in that treasure-shelf I find some packet with all chinese characters. I open to find some kind of sauce, pray that it is the seasoning sauce and put some of it in the noodles that are almost ready. After the noodles are cooked, I still keep the stove going to evaporate all the excess water (there is no way I could drain the noodles otherwise) and finally sit down to it.
Yeah, it sucked. I finish it somehow and then shift all those chinese packets to some other shelf. Let someone else have the same joy >:). So, the first meal that an Indian prepares in UK is Chinese. Talk of globalisation :D

2. Two more days snail by and I decide to visit the supermarket everyone had been suggesting. I go and buy some juice, flavoured yoghurt, bread loaf and butter and something called 'fruit malt loaf'. Once I came back to the flat and started placing the stuff in the fridge that I realised my follies. Why did I buy breadloaf instead of bread which is sliced? Its quite hard to slice a loaf with an amateurish knife especially if you are an amateur at it yourself! The other bread loaf which I bought hoping it to be some nice decent fruit bread was totally inedible with its sticky nature and strong smell. Anyways, I makee some weird looking slices of the normal loaf and then try to put some butter on the slice. Thats when I realise that it is not India and it would take a whole day for the butter to melt. So I switch on the stove and put a slice over it and try to heat it a little. It works though some bread particles remain adamantly stuck to the stove and I have no means of getting them off. I have a sumptuous dinner on my few pennies worth bread-butter and get down to cleaning the plate. How can you rid the plate of butter when the only cleaning materials available are your hand, knife and plain water? Somehow I manage. All the experience in IIIT of cleaning the dishes after the maggi sessions comes in handy.

3. Now starts the glorious climax to the story. After another 2 days, on the 7th day of my stay, I finally decide to get going. The impending change of rooms had stopped me from buying any of the required stuff but I finally decided to get all I want (though I would need to make an extra trip carrying this stuff while changing my room). So first of all, I go to some appliances shop and get myself a dinner plate and 2 bowls .. all microwave compatible. Then I visit this shop specialising in southasian stuff (managed by a pakisthani I think) and buy rice, dal, oil and salt. The shop isnt so good but the girl at the counter (daughter of the owner) is too pretty and worth another visit. Then I go to that supermarket I had visited earlier and get a mixed vegetables packet. It is basically diced carrots beans peas and corn, which are little boiled and then frozen. I come back to my dear kitchen set up all my utensils, take out all the masalas from the suitcase and get ready to cook. Thats when I realise I have no means of cleaning the dishes after everything is done! So I rush out to find a supermarket nearby. Just then a couple enter the flat. An Indian origin girl and her british boyfriend (I presume). They have been given the room opposite mine temporarily they say. I wonder, here I am all set to experiment alone and now I will have company? However they are soon inform that they need to go to the block nearby and they vacate the flat immediately. So the whole flat is mine all over again. I go out find this supermarket and guess what? Its managed by gujaratis. They talk in hindi, show me all the shop and vehemently suggest that I should buy all my stuff from here only. (I wont, this one's near but lot costlier). I buy some dish-cleaning liquid and go back to the kitchen and am all set to cook.

3a. I immerse some dal in a bowl with water and wait for it to soak the water. Meanwhile I place a kadai/wok on the stove, put some oil and tadka/popu in it and wait for it to heat. Then, once it starts getting noisy, I put in a little water and some vegetable pieces from the packet. Then some salt, chilli powder, masala, stir lightly, cover it with a plate leaving a little gap for the steam to escape. Meanwhile I wash the rice and put some water in the cooker. The mixed veg curry is now almost ready. I know that generally, the ratio of rice-grains:water is 1:2. However in this case, it was basmati rice and they generally become very sticky when cooked unlike the normal rice. So I hazard just equal amounts of rice and water in a bowl, cover it with the dal bowl, put them inside the cooker which is on the stove and put the stove on the highest level. The curry is cooked, smells great and has been put aside for the time being. I put the weight on when the steam starts spouting out and get back to my novel and wait for the cooker to whistle. Which it doesnt! I check it to find some steam coming out through somewhere. Now, all the time I spent in kitchens in the past 20 yrs watching mom cook comes in handy. I gently tug at the weight, readjust the lid and lo..behold the steam builds up and the cooker whistles. The exhaust fan has to be switched on at this minute otherwies the whole kitchen would be steamy. After 2 whistles, the stove is put to a minimum and I wait once again. I conclude that cooking makes us 'hot' (literally atleast). After the third whistle, I switch off the stove and once again get back to the book. After a few more minutes, with the cooker having cooled, I open it, get the bowls out using a napkin (no tongs you see), mix some salt in the dal and its ready to serve!

3b. Yeah, so I serve myself. It tasted great (dont know whether its because I was too hungry with all the cooking or whether it actually tasted great or whether its the first actual andhra food that I have eaten since a week). After gobbling it all up, I set to wash the dishes. This time its much easier with a sponge and cleaning liquid. Everything cleaned and set to dry, I return to my room with a full and happy stomach for much needed sleep :).

Cooking has come by instinct to me and not through any deep thinking. So, I guess I am a natural and soon should be able to overtake the likes of those cooks who host those boring cookery shows :D.